FOODBANK FOUNDER'S TEARS AS SHE HELPS FAMILIES
VOLUNTEER'S HEARTBREAK OVER STRUGGLE OF SERVICE USERS
I might cry when I go home but I never cry here
WITHIN half an hour of the foodbank opening, Audrey Flannagan is holding a young woman as she sobs on her shoulder.
Audrey is the manager of Glasgow South East Foodbank
– a role that involves as much practical skill as it does empathy and emotional strength.
The foodbank, on Butterbiggins Road in Govanhill, has four extra opening days in the run up to Christmas so that those in need can come in and pick up supplies for the festive season.
At regular intervals, those who need support come in to the centre where they are greeted by volunteers Susan Miller and Theresa O’Brien who, with Audrey, are the founders of the foodbank. They are given a festive bag full of food and treats to make Christmas dinner as well as a Christmas gift.
Some people are on their own but others are parents collecting for themselves and their children.
Working with Glasgow’s Spirit of Christmas, the foodbank has gift bags full of toys and surprises for the children.
For the first woman who comes in, who has three young children, the kindness is too much and she breaks down.
Audrey doesn’t hesitate before embracing her and offering her words of comfort.
“There are times,” Audrey says, “You don’t hold it together when people start crying but I have learned over the years that opening your eyes really wide stops the tears from coming.
“I might cry when I go home but I never cry here. If I cry, they’ll get worse and they don’t need to get any worse.”
She added: “It’s not during the day when I’m at work that I get upset. It’s at night when I get home and I’m on my sofa under my blanket with a cup of tea in my warm home and I think about how the people we are helping don’t have that. And that’s what breaks my heart.
This is the foodbank’s ninth Christmas helping people in need and the charity is overwhelmed with donations to try to give people a decent Christmas Day.
But, Audrey believes, in modern Britain this support should not be needed at all.
She said: “It makes me angry. Why is a foodbank supplying the best Christmas they have had?
“This should be an emergency crisis centre; it should not be their Christmas.
“People tell us this is the best Christmas they have had but I know what we get and give in my family and what we are giving out doesn’t compare to the volume of presents the young people in my family get.
“That people are having to get their Christmas from a foodbank in wealthy 21st century Britain – it’s atrocious.
“I can’t even think of the words strong enough to properly describe it.”
Throughout the morning people keep coming in to pick up their food parcels and presents.
One man is collecting for a family of 10 and he leaves the foodbank laden down with bags of gifts and food, which have been prepared by two students volunteering for the day.
Many are single men, who Audrey says are the highest demographic for the foodbank.
She said: “The vast majority of people we see will be on benefits.
“Poverty is not dignified but a lot of our services users carry dignity with them. It is extremely humbling when you meet the service users who are coming in.”
One man is visibly moved by the present he is given alongside his food parcel.
“You are a wee star,” he says as this is handed over to him. “Thank you very, very much.”
Audrey says the foodbank volunteers routinely see loneliness and hopelessness and what they aim to do is provide hope for people.
Glasgow South East foodbank is split over four locations – the charity has an office where people go to be assessed for fuel vouchers, another service the foodbank provides, and to meet with a support worker who can signpost them to other services they might need.
There are storage spaces – one in a container and the other in Glasgow Elim Church.
And finally there is the foodbank proper on Butterbiggins Road.
It is clear immediately that the service has outgrown its home. Crates and shelves of food tower from floor to ceiling in the small space, there is very little floor space and the volunteers dance round one another to avoid a crash while helping service users.
Glasgow South East foodbank started off in Glasgow Elim Church – where Audrey, Theresa and Susan are all members – but desperately needs bigger premises.
Audrey has been on a search for a new home but, needing the foodbank to be in Govanhill or the Gorbals, options are limited.
She said: “If we had a larger centre I would like to set up a regular lunch club.
“People need somewhere to come where they can socialise.”
“I’d like to be making people cups of tea when they come in for appointments, make them feel more welcome, but we don’t have the facilities for that.”
While the foodbank is inundated at Christmas with gifts, which they are hugely grateful for, Audrey says it is important that people give all year round.
She said: “It’s wonderful that people give at Christmas and I understand why that desire is there but we need food all year round.”
In its first year, eight years ago, the foodbank fed 700 people. Last year it fed 11,200.
Audrey said: “I find it hard to accept how big it’s become. I find it hard when people say, ‘It’s great what you’ve done,’ because it’s not great. We should not be here.
“But I can’t see an end to this.”